Monday, October 31, 2011

Sometimes a Day Comes Along for No Other Reason Than You Need It

I am running very far behind on almost everything that I really need to do but instead I am sitting here writing a piece for a blog that I swore I was going to close down—typical Woodard.

Typical Woodard Beach Photo in BW
Jerry Pierson from the Morning Beach Shoot
I very much dreaded this past week, Friday in particular. For some reason it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. Friday after the mail was delivered I drove down to Galveston for a photoshoot the next morning with NWHPC. I went to the places where Janet and I normally would go, out to West Beach and of course Janet’s favorite, the Bolivar Ferry. The weather was overcast and extremely windy but that only adds to the ferry ride.

Boy and Seagulls at the end of the seawall at West Beach
Girl on Bolivar Ferry shortly before a wave broke over the bow and soaked her
“We were very tired, we were very merry, we rode back and forth all night on the ferry.”
Janet wasn’t much on poetry, well outside of Cummings, but she did enjoy that line from a Millay poem. I was reminded of our last trip on the ferry on Christmas Day year before last. It wasn’t nearly as windy so we walked onto the ferry and I put her up at the front like the girl in the photo. She could support herself with the gunwale so she could stand and see over. I had learned earlier that if we drove onto the ferry I couldn’t get her out of the car so she couldn’t see anything. We rode back and forth two times that day.

Then Saturday, one of the ladies from the camera club and I took the Galveston Harbor boat tour so outside of the sunrise shoot on Stewart Beach it was a water weekend. I even came back to Houston by 146 to go through Kemah, Seabrook and the marina area where we practically lived for a number of years.

Sugar Sculls

This morning I was attempting to catch up on email when Debi called and asked if I had ever gone to a Day of the Dead Festival. I said, no, so we decided to check it out. When we first arrived it looked more like a flea market than a celebration and in a way it was. There were all sorts of food booths and vendors selling jewelry and other things but mostly selling what I later learned were sugar sculls. Of course, they are no longer made from sugar. The skulls were highly decorated and not knowing any more about the Day of the Dead than that it was something that the Mexicans did around Halloween I was curious as to the significance of the sculls—I mostly associated the celebration with a religious occurrence which it is only in a very limited way, so sculls seemed a little odd.

We approached a tent where a young fellow seemed to have the most popular sugar sculls for sale. When we got an opportunity I asked him how the sculls were used. The best he could seem to tell me was that people bought them. Didn’t seem he had much more of a grasp of the situation than I had. Fortunately a lady overheard the question and came over to explain that the sculls were use to represent the deceased—family, friends, anyone that someone wished to honor. An alter to the person or persons, all the ancestors you wanted to honor, would be set up and along with a scull representing each honoree. There would be offerings that represented the honoree’s likes, what they had enjoyed when they were alive along with some foods that were specifically associated with the day and marigolds. The Day of the Dead is more about honoring a deceased person or persons than it is a religious celebration. The religious objects that are used in the altars represent the honoree’s religious convictions. It just seemed to me that was something that was greatly missing in today’s society and considering my personal circumstances was something I found worthwhile.

Not being Catholic, my early religious indoctrination was mostly to scoff at what I now call religious artifacts. For some reason, beyond my long discussions with Don McCuistian debating the Baptist vs the Church of Christ dogma I never really was very good at scoffing—ignoring Catholics, that I could do, but it never seemed important or really necessary to scoff. As I have previously mentioned numerous times I love finding and photographing religious artifacts which usually means objects related to the Catholic’s practice of their religion. I find them beautiful. I find them inspirational—and for some unknown reason because it is surely not in my upbringing—I find them poignant.

Above the door of the building it said Dow School and above the door on the side we had approached it said, Girls. I assume on the other side it said Boys. There was a long staircase up to the front door. Inside we were first greeted with a four foot replica of a black sugar scull with appropriate decoration. Beyond that was what appeared to be an altar. We were photographing as we entered. In the halls on either side of the first altar there were several smaller altars set up with candles, artifacts, sugar sculls, some had food, some wine and drinks, one I noticed had cigarettes. There were crucifix, prayer candles, pictures of the Virgin of Guadalupe—numerous religious artifacts which coincided with my assumption that the Day of the Dead was a religious celebration. All of this confused me considerably. You can no longer pray in school or at school functions, God to the best of my knowledge had been expelled some time ago. So how was a “school” allowed to openly display objects with obvious religious connotations.  Along with all the religious artifacts and other offerings were many of the trappings of Halloween and a lot of orange in the form of flowers but no pumpkins.

Young Dancer
After we finished photographing inside we went out to photograph the stage where young people were performing dances from Central and South American countries. While we were having cold drinks we noticed the lady that had been announcing the dances in English wandering through the crowd. During the announcements she had mentioned an organization called MECA so when we got a chance we asked her what MECA was. It turns out the she was one of the founders some thirty years ago and that the school is no longer a public school which explains having the religious artifacts. They teach cultural and performance arts after hours to the children in a large surrounding area. Apparently it was one of the early attempts to promote multiculturalism and to preserve the cultural institutions of the Hispanics in Houston.

Debi and I both enjoyed it very much and plan on going back next year—only this time it will be with a better understanding of what the altars and the artifacts represent. I have already processed most of my photographs and for the most part am very pleased. (I just saw Debie’s, now I’m not so pleased.)

Art Project on Lyons Avenue

Law Office Door on Harrisburg
One of Several Pieces located on the corner of Pease and Dowling
Afterwards we drove over to Sawyer to see if we could find a piece of outdoor art that Debie had seen in passing—a miniature of a piece of art at Bush International, we didn’t find it. So we drove over to the Sixth Ward on Lyons Avenue to photograph a most unusual piece of art which will eventually become a stage for performance art. Then toured the Denver Harbor area (in forty years I don’t believe I have ever been to Denver Harbor), drove out Navigation to the Turning Basin at the end of the Houston Ship Channel and back in by Harrisburg. Janet and I used to hang out and photograph the color in the Ship Channel area back in the Seventies. Back then it was mostly barrio and extremely colorful. Now a lot of the color is gone but it is still an interesting area but not anyplace that someone from Katy would normally find themselves of their own volition.  On the way back to Debie’s car, after photographing the strange art on the corner of Pease and Dowling, we stopped at Jax Bar and Grill for one of Houston’s best, but oh so greasy, hamburgers and Snapple for a late lunch—well I had a Dr Pepper. Debie will be the Activities Chairperson for NWHPC next year so we talked for well over an hour about her trip to Arizona last week and hashing out lots of ideas for club activities—she’s going to be good. I am constantly amazed at the places she can get us into—like a Day of the Dead Festival. If it is happening in Houston, Debie is probably going to find it.

I really needed the couple of days in Galveston. I really needed today. Sometimes it just happens that way.


  1. Debie sounds like a good social director. Wish I had her hear to take me on some outings! Like you, I've always kinda wondered about the "day of the dead" stuff. To be honest, the skulls kind of creep me out, but I guess it's good to know the meaning behind the day. I just think I could have come up with a better token of remembrance! HA Nice work as always, Gary. Perhaps some day I can go on some photo outings with the two of you?

  2. Debi is amazing. She works for a life style magazine in Katy so she comes up with events that most of us entirely miss. Graden had done an exceptionally outstanding job this year as activities chairman, but everyone I have talked to is really looking forward to what Debi will come up with for next year. The intent for going to the festival was to check it out to see if it would be something that some of the club might enjoy. I have a feeling these "check out" excursions will be increasing. LOL BTW, Check out the NWHPC Meet Up site. At last we have a Internet presence that actually gets updated

    We would love to have you join us on our excursiond when you get back to the States.

    At least four of the seven officer and chair positions next year will be handled by people who have never held office before, including President. The meet up site has really brought in a lot of new blood to the club. We have over a hundred people that are members of the meet up, plus some of the original members that will have nothing to do with the site. Times they are a changing.

  3. I agree with the "token" being a litle strange. But from what I read this actually goes back to an Aztec celebration that just got tied in to the Catholic's All Saints Day. Taken as a secular rather than an religious celebration it has considerable merit. Or maybe that is just an old guy with a much missed extended family talking. LOL

  4. I so love your work. Really good stuff. the image of your friend Jerry, love the shadow of him falling away to the right, all the way out of the image. Nice work. nice words...

  5. Paul, thanks for the kind words. I also like the photo of Jerry. Someone mentioned the European look with the building in the background. What I like is the somewhat Charlie Chaplin way Jerry is standing. You have to wonder what he is seeing through the lens pointed down the way it is.